Using Interteaching to Increase Student Engagement

Posted August 11, 2015

By Bryan K. Saville


When I was a neophyte teacher, I resorted to the same teaching methods that most of my teachers had used with me—namely, traditional lectures. I had performed fairly well in those lecture-based courses, so I assumed that my students would do the same. And, for the most part, they did. They got pretty good grades, and, in turn, they gave me pretty good teaching evaluations. But I nevertheless sensed that something wasn’t quite right. Ultimately, I realized that my students weren’t as engaged as I hoped they would be. It was then that I went searching for new ways to “draw them in;” to get them excited about what I was teaching, whether it was in my psychology of learning course—which students tend to find pretty interesting—or my research methods class—which, at least initially, doesn’t evoke the same type of enthusiastic responses.

In my search for new teaching methods, I came across the concept of “student engagement.” Since its introduction into the research literature the late 1960s, it has become a bit of a buzzword in educational settings. To illustrate, Figure 1 shows the number of Google Scholar hits for “student engagement” over successive 10-year periods since 1970 (in the 5-year period since 2010, the number has already exceeded 350,000). Clearly, people are interested in this topic, which is one reason why alternative teaching methods such as peer instruction and “flipped classrooms” are currently hot. One pedagogical tool that can be added to this list is “interteaching.”

Figure 1


Interteaching is relatively new teaching method that was developed by Dr. Phil Hineline from Temple University and that has its roots in behavior analysis. (Hineline and his colleague Ted Boyce subsequently published a description of interteaching in 2002.) A typical interteaching session works as follows:

  • The teacher creates a preparation (prep) guide that students receive several days in advance (often via a course webpage) and that they use to prepare for class. A prep guide typically contains 5 to 15 items and covers 10 to 20 pages of reading material.
  • In class, students first hear a brief clarifying lecture that lasts about one third of the class period and covers difficult material from the last class session (see below for more detail).
  • After the lecture, students form pairs and spend the rest of the class discussing the prep-guide items they answered for that day. During the discussions, the teacher moves around the room and answers questions.
  • Once students are finished, they complete a record sheet on which they list which prep-guide items they would like the teacher to review in more detail.
  • Using the record sheets as a guide, the teacher constructs a short lecture that targets the material students found to be most confusing. The lecture begins the next class period and precedes discussion of the next prep guide, which students completed for that day.

Research on Interteaching

Since the introduction of interteaching just over a decade ago, researchers have found it to be an effective alternative to more traditional lecture-based teaching methods. My colleagues and I, for instance, have shown that it significantly increases exam scores in a variety of undergraduate and graduate psychology courses. Other researchers have studied its efficacy in religion, special education, food science, sociology, and computer science courses, also with positive results. Rather than bore you with data, though, I figure that it might be more useful to discuss how I have implemented interteaching in my courses and what I have learned along the way.

Implementing Interteaching: Some Considerations

I first implemented interteaching over 10 years ago in a history of psychology course that I taught over a 4-week summer session. In retrospect, that was not the best idea I’ve ever had, even if the class did go swimmingly well. Most days, I was just a few hours ahead of my students, completing prep guides just an hour or two before I had to distribute them in class. If you decide to implement interteaching in your classes, don’t take this approach. Instead, either give yourself plenty of time to develop the course materials or, at the very least, implement this method slowly. You could, for instance, develop prep guides for a unit or two of information and move toward a “complete” interteaching class over the course of a few semesters.

Maybe not surprisingly, some students are skeptical of this “new thing” I’m making them do in class. Many students have learned how to “jump through the hoops” to get good grades, and they wonder why I’m making them do something different, something with which they aren’t familiar. As such, I spend a good chunk of time explaining to my students why I use interteaching and why I think it will benefit them. As with many alternative teaching methods, it’s important to “sell it to them” not only at the beginning of the semester, but also periodically over the coming weeks.

Another issue that teachers need to consider is the general format of interteaching, which I described above. Every so often, I talk to teachers who tell me that, “I tried interteaching, and it didn’t work for me.” When I ask them to provide more detail, they often note how they deviated from the original format. But there are important conceptual reasons why interteaching is structured the way it is, and deviation from this general structure is likely to impact its efficacy. So, stick with the general format until you have a feel for how interteaching works. At that point, you could consider modifying it for your particular purposes.

I have also found that the prep guides are key to producing the kind of learning I want from my students. For instance, I have had teachers tell me that to save time, they simply took questions from an instructor’s manual when constructing their prep guides. In my experience, not all instructor’s manuals do a great job of providing the types of questions that get students to think and discuss the way I want them to. If your students are not having the kinds of discussions you want them to have, you may need to check the types of questions you have on your prep guides. In my experience, questions that fall higher on Bloom’s taxonomy—for instance, questions that require students to analyze or evaluate information—will produce better discussions (and learning) than questions that only ask students to define terms.

Finally, although my first few interteaching classes went really well (which is why I began implementing this class into nearly every class I teach), it does take awhile to get into a “groove” with interteaching. Don’t give up if it doesn’t work for you after a few weeks. Tweak and re-tweak, and see what happens.

In the 10 or so years since I first implemented interteaching in my courses, I have found that my students are much more engaged than they used to be. I have also found that when my students are engaged, so am I. In this way, using interteaching in my classes has created a reciprocal environment where everyone involved becomes more engaged in the teaching and learning process. For me—and hopefully for others who decide to give it a try—it’s been a win-win outcome.

Recommended Readings

Astin, A. W. (1993). What matters in college?: Four critical years revisited. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: Reach every student in every class every day. Washington, DC: International Society for Technology in Education.

Boyce, T. E., & Hineline, P. N. (2002). Interteaching: A strategy for enhancing the user-friendliness of behavioral arrangements in the college classroom. The Behavior Analyst, 25, 215-226.

Crouch, C. H., & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics, 69, 970-977.

Saville, B. K. (2013, February). Interteaching: Ten tips for effective implementation. APS Observer, 26. Published online at

Saville, B. K., Bureau, A., Eckenrode, C., Fullerton, A., Herbert, R., Maley, M., Porter, A., & Zombakis, J. (2014). Interteaching and lecture: A comparison of long-term recognition memory. Teaching of Psychology, 41, 325-329.

Saville, B. K., Lambert, T., & Robertson, S. (2011). Interteaching: Bringing behavioral education into the 21st century. The Psychological Record, 61, 153-166.

Saville, B. K., Zinn, T. E., & Elliott, M. P. (2005). Interteaching versus traditional methods of instruction: A preliminary analysis. Teaching of Psychology, 32, 161-163.

Saville, B. K., Zinn, T. E., Neef, N. A., Norman, R. V., & Ferreri, S. J. (2006). A comparison of interteaching and lecture in the college classroom. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 39, 49-61.


Bryan K. Saville (Twitter: @BryanSaville) is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. For the past 12 years, he has studied evidence-based teaching methods, most notably, interteaching. More recently, he has begun studying the topic of passion and, more specifically, the objective and subjective outcomes that occur when college students are (or are not) passionate about their academic activities. In his free time, he loves hanging out with his family and playing guitar.